21 May 2010

Choir to sing their own genes

A new choral work in which singers sing parts derived directly from their own genetic code will receive its London premiere at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) on July 13th. The new piece, Allele, by Michael Zev Gordon with text by poet Ruth Padel, will be performed by the New London Chamber Choir (NLCC), under the direction of James Weeks. The premiere will be part of a public event at the RSM entitled 'Music from the Genome' which will also feature discussion between the composer and poet on the challenges of creating this unique work.

The event takes its title from a Wellcome Trust-funded project of the same name. The project combines the composition of Allele with a piece of original scientific research - an investigation into the genetic determinants of musical ability. Dr Andrew Morley, director of the project and a consultant anaesthetist, is comparing DNA samples from 250 choral singers, including the NLCC themselves, with those of 250 non-musicians. Preliminary results from the study will be announced at the lecture and may support the idea that musical ability depends in part on differences in brain biochemistry.

Dr Andrew Morley said, "Both parts of the project directly address genetic complexity. The music is stunning because of this but, correspondingly, those looking for a simple answer to the question 'what makes us musical?' will be disappointed. The genetics are so much more complicated than a single 'musical gene'. What is already apparent, though, is that genetic polymorphisms influencing our musicality may also affect aspects of our personality, specifically our altruistic tendencies."

For the composition of, Allele - a 40 part unaccompanied work - genetic information from the DNA sample of each NLCC singer was used to create their part. Each singer will effectively be singing their own genes. Composer Michael Zev Gordon said: "The work takes strands of genetic code, turning the varying order of the four constituent 'DNA bases' into musical patterns. Most of the human genome is common to us all, but at certain points in the sequence there are tiny variants which may lead to our individual characteristics - including musicality. These crucial variants of genes are called 'alleles', hence the title." The composition also uses the fundamental principle of natural proportionality - the Fibonacci sequence.

Ruth Padel, acclaimed poet and author, wrote the text. She too uses proportionality in her chosen poetic form, and reflects upon these 'tiniest' of differences in each of us.

Also speaking at the event will be the renowned Professor Marcus du Sautoy, from the Mathematical Institute at Oxford University, who will discuss how science feeds the arts.

Allele will also be performed on July 9, at the Diamond Light Synchrotron, Didcot, presented by Oxford Contemporary Music and Oxford Inspires as part of the Oxfordshire's Season of Science, and on July 10 at the Cheltenham Music Festival.

'Music from the Genome' tickets cost 12.
For full programme visit: www.rsm.ac.uk/academ/musicgen
Venue: The Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0AE
To purchase tickets contact:
Sophie Baettig; sophie.baettig@rsm.ac.uk; Tel: +44 (0) 20 7290 3919




Dr Andrew Morley is available for interview. For more information, please contact the RSM media office:
Carmel Turner: 020 7290 2904/07949 516471
Becca Jenkins: 020 7290 3866/07868 130 380

*The Journal of Medical Screening is published by RSM Press on behalf of the Medical Screening Society. The editor is Professor Nick Wald, Head of the Centre for Environmental and Preventive Medicine in the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Bart's and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the University of London.


Michael Zev Gordon is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Southampton. He won the 2008 British Composer of the Year Award (choral section). His CD 'On Memory' was in The Times' top 100 CDs of 2009. He has written works for many leading artists, including Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the Composers' Ensemble, Orkest de Volharding, Endymion, the Carducci Quartet, New Music Players, Concordia and Sarah Leonard.

Dr Andrew Morley is a consultant anaesthetist at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. His principle research interest is genetics and he is director of the 'Music from the Genome' project funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Ruth Padel is a British poet and author of fifteen books, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London, Bye-Fellow of Christ's College Cambridge, Member of the Bombay Natural History, and currently a judge for this year's National Poetry Competition. She has published several poetry collections, most recently Darwin - A Life in Poems, a biography in lyric poems of her great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy is the second holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He has written numerous academic articles and popular books on mathematics, including the bestseller The Music of the Primes. His latest book Finding Moonshine was published in February 2008. Professor du Sautoy was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) this year.

The New London Chamber Choir was founded in 1981 and is one of Europe's foremost vocal ensembles. NLCC has given many world and British premieres and continues to commission and promote new work. James Weeks was appointed Musical Director of the New London Chamber Choir in November 2007 in succession to James Wood. He is in great demand as a guest conductor, and has worked with Endymion, IXION, I Fagiolini, BBC Singers, New Music Players and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Oxford Contemporary Music aims to promote high quality new music for a wide range of local and national audiences by staging and promoting performances, commissioning new work, and by deepening understanding and appreciation of musical cultures from within the UK and worldwide. For further information contact: Victoria Bosher, General Manager, OCM Tel: 01865 305305; www.ocmevents.org; info@ocmevents.org

Cheltenham Music Festival is one of the four annual cultural festivals run by Cheltenham Festivals. This year's Cheltenham Music Festival takes place 2-17 July. For further information contact the Cheltenham Music Festival press office: Amy Hulyer, amy.hulyer@cheltenhamfestivals.com; 01242 775856

Further information

For further information contact:
Media Office
Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7290 2904
Email: media@rsm.ac.uk